Published: May 31, 2023

Maybe. It has to do with how much (or how little) you align with gender stereotypes in an interview.

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Rebecca L. Mitchell, PhD, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Leeds School of Business 

Most job candidates want an interviewer to perceive them as collaborative, creative, hardworking and professional. Very few think about how warm they come across.

But evidently, it matters. A researcher at the Leeds School of Business explored the effects of warmth and gender on how collaborative a person seems, and whether it results in positive or negative outcomes in hiring.

“Gender bias in hiring remains a persistent problem. A common recommendation for women has been to temper their competence with warmth to prevent agentic penalties in interviews,” said Rebecca L. Mitchell, PhD, an assistant professor of organizational behavior, whose study was recently published in Human Resource Management. 

Surprisingly, she found that “modifying a woman's warmth may not be a reliable tactic for minimizing gender bias.”

She first began thinking about gender stereotypes in hiring when she read an article in the Huffington Post about a controversial women’s leadership development training, which counseled women to go along with the gender stereotype that women should tamp down their agency and increase their warmth. Women in the article were disillusioned with the “fix the woman” approach; it made her think about whether bias emerges from the way a woman acts or the way a man acts, or perhaps a combination of both.

When she began her study, “Backlashes or boosts? The role of warmth and gender in relational uncertainty reductions,” she expected to see backlashes for women who displayed gender-incongruent (i.e., low) levels of warmth but found that when it came to hiring, a woman’s degree of warmth, whether high or low, had no bearing on the hiring decision. Men, however, stood to gain positive career advantages as a result of their gender-incongruent behavior.

“We found that men who displayed high levels of warmth reduced relational uncertainty, since high warmth is related to helping tendencies—the opposite of what typical male stereotypes might suggest,” she said.

For managers, this means that counseling women to convey more warmth to combat agentic stereotypes, a common recommendation endorsed by researchers and practitioners alike, may not work in a hiring context. Managers should also be aware of both the female disadvantages that gender biases produce as well as the male advantages that might mean hiring the wrong candidate.

As a result of her study, Mitchell proposes that organizations use strict standardized selection processes, highly structured interviews, use joint interview evaluations, and hold interviewers accountable for hiring decisions in order to combat bias.

Why Leeds  Rebecca Mitchell